New Hybrid Vehicle Is Ready To Change The Game In Urban Mobility.
Cargo bicycles have taken new electric forms: Cargo bicycles have been used as utility and passenger transport for years but recognition of their role as a private and commercial mobility solution in today’s times has increased. The shift towards electrification of vehicles in many parts of the world has evolved traditional cargo bicycles where they are now fitted with electric motors and turned into electric-assisted vehicles that can take the form of 2 or 3-wheelers, commonly called cargo e-bikes. Now, an emerging Norwegian startup, CityQ has taken the urban mobility evolution one step further by introducing its ‘car e-bike’ into the fold. The CityQ effectively combines the advantages of a car and bicycle, making them versatile as an all-weather vehicle that can be readily deployed commercially or used as personal transportation. Packed with advanced technology including a patent pending chassis, an electric drive (e-drive) system and software, CityQ shows us why a car e-bike may be the future in mobility through this video:
The Mobility as a Service disruption: With clean energy and sustainable mobility being widely accepted as the next chapter in modern transportation trends, Mobility as a Service (MaaS) has quickly changed the way people move. MaaS seeks to provide a service to use various transport options on an on-demand basis through digital platforms, and is heavily based on the concept of sharing. MaaS has given rise to services like car sharing, ride sharing and micromobility, among others.
Advancements in technology and government policies supporting clean energy and sustainability have fuelled explosive growth in MaaS in recent years as have pollution, traffic congestion, public transport overcrowding through heavy urbanisation trends. MaaS has far reaching economic and social impact, continuously giving rise to new businesses within its massive eco-system of service, software and hardware providers.
Mindset shift in the way we get around: Issues on climate change and the importance of advancing clean technology in the environment have been given prominence by many publications and governments globally in recent years. People are getting more conscious of leaving unwanted carbon footprints. A National Geographic survey found that Americans generally want to help ease global warming. These changes in perception have taken place not only in America but also in most parts of the world as trends shift to reflect changing preferences in mobility. Along with increasing awareness on carbon emissions, car ownership has become less appealing for city dwellers tired of city congestion and incessant parking issues. Many people are seeking practical alternative mobility solutions that are not only more cost effective but also offer opportunities to help contribute to a healthier environment. Notably, idealistic young millennials who are quietly driving this modern sharing economy, no longer see car ownership, with its associated investment outlay, maintenance costs and driving licence hassles, as a necessity when shared mobility avail them of so much savings, flexibility and convenience.
Frost and Sullivan found that there are about 16 million car sharing users in the world today, predicting this user base to grow to 36 million by 2025 where as it is, Beijing, Berlin, large parts of USA are already huge markets for shared mobility services. These days, names like Didi, Uber, Lyft and Grab are almost synonymous with ride sharing worldwide.
With this continuing trend, it is matter of time before cleaner electric vehicles (EVs) will hold more interest than conventional vehicles. As Bloomberg in their New Energy Finance predicts, within two decades from today, the cheaper EVs will replace over 56% of overall light commercial vehicle sales in Europe, China and the U.S.
Micromobility is changing the logistics landscape: Micromobility solutions are poised to change the landscape of logistics businesses as they show much potential in replacing traditional modes of deliveries, especially vans or fulfilling last mile services for same day deliveries in micro logistics models. These solutions also address various personal transport issues in cities, including peak hour congestions, parking availability and motor vehicle emission while offering viable personal electric alternatives to car rides and walking.
Varying in safety and travel distances, micromobility vehicles include light and small vehicles ranging from traditional bicycles or scooters to kick-scooters and mopeds. Mopeds are generally heavier and faster variations of scooters and are typically used for relatively longer trips, often requiring a car licence to use.
In recent years, ever since Lime and Bird popularised shared mobility in the form of e-ecooters and (e)-bikes, electric micromobility or e-micromobility has been drawing much attention. E-micromobility is believed to be most viable in providing shorter distance trips of up to 10 km, with e-bikes better positioned to replace car trips whereas e-scooters offer a good alternative to walking.
E-bikes and e-scooters have their own distinctive features, making each popular in their own way notwithstanding their limitations.
Despite their fun factor, e-scooters and e-bikes have raised many safety concerns worldwide. E-scooter users have a tendency to fall and risk head injuries from unstable standing positions. These vehicles are known to have caused harm, some fatally, on unsuspecting pedestrians. E-scooters and e-bikes lack mirrors or indicators, making it difficult for a rider to have views of approaching vehicles or signal intended directions on the road. Although they have less related accidents compared to e-scooters, being comparatively faster than traditional bikes, e-bikes make speeding on bicycle lanes a hazard. Regulations on e-scooters and e-bikes remain varied across countries but with their increasing use in shared micromobility, cluttering of e-scooters on footpaths has not been an uncommon sight in unregulated new markets. Despite rising adoption, using these e-micromobility vehicles is also – unfortunately – impractical in bad weather.
Rise of a new vehicle platform: the shortcomings of two-wheeled e-micromobility solutions, particularly their limitations around load factors and handling in bad weather, makes them relatively unfit for all-weather commercial duties. For logistics-related services and other commercial applications a 4-wheeled e-bike platform seems like a natural upgrade and solution to address the limitations of their 2 or 3-wheeled predecessors. A 4-wheeled e-micromobility solution, when combining the characteristics of a car and bike, makes better sense in providing more safety and protection while still retaining a hassle-free bicycle classification. Better yet, a car e-bike is to provide more room for cargo and passengers, enabling them to even replace cars and vans for short distance door to door services.
The market for micromobility vehicles has grown rapidly partly due to their ability to circumvent restrictions imposed on car driving resulting from government regulations on emissions and efforts to tackle congestion. Therefore, a new hybrid platform like a car e-bike shows promising potential to wrestle market share away from cars in an urban setting, including small, light electric cars, and in particular those cities that are affected by car-free zones.
Being able to enter restricted zones makes a vehicle like the car e-bike a great fit in offering super flexible and reliable delivery solutions for the micro logistics sector and last mile fulfilment services such as those to do with parcel and supermarket items delivery, and generally any business requiring efficient, prompt service for their goods. Food retailing in particular, now almost exclusively relies on bikes for deliveries but a car e-bike could potentially provide a more viable solution in that it has not only more generous cargo space and offers weather protection, but also serves as a green and innovative business card to companies in front of a more sustainability conscious consumer.
Moving around in a car e-bike: It is easy to understand why a car e-bike might have a high potential to succeed as a personal and family vehicle. The 3-4 wheel e-bike market was predicted to grow at a rate of more than 30% annually in Europe and Scandinavia collectively before COVID, indicating that people are increasingly substituting their cars for an e-bike. As a private vehicle, a car e-bike holds much appeal. The car e-bike can be driven without any licence or registration. It can be parked virtually anywhere and requires minimal maintenance provided a new e-drive system has been designed into the vehicle platform.
A safe, all-weather, light and comfortable transport that can ferry kids to school and back and more, would sound attractive to most families in a congested urban environment. With a car e-bike, people can leave their cars at home and head out to the shops for a quick bite, use it as a green alternative to crowded buses for commuting or people can use it to go to the gym, giving their workouts a head start right from their doorsteps. For those concerned about leaving carbon footprints and would like to do their bit for a cleaner environment, car e-bikes make practical sense since they are energy efficient and emission-free.
Car e-bike usage will bring about new business models: Given its versatility as a private or commercial utility vehicle, it would be a matter of time before the car e-bike makes headway towards integrating itself into the MaaS eco-system. The possibilities are there for car e-bike OEMs to explore new business models in the way urban micromobility solutions are used, whether as a B2B platform or in a B2C capacity. Providers in the MaaS make use of various market models to deliver their services efficiently to ensure easy accessibility by users, whether through advanced mobile applications or value-added partnerships with public and private players in the market. These partnerships, along with massive capital investments into the sector have been driving the market growth for MasS and shared mobility in recent years.
As classic retailing shrinks, car e-bike makers and operators could create alliances with supermarkets and retailers to not only meet delivery fulfilment objectives but also offer customers options to choose timing of deliveries even during congested peak hours, conditions in which a cargo car e-bike would be able to get the job done effectively and quickly. Furthermore, ease of deployment opens up possibilities for car e-bikes to be included as fleet vehicles for logistic companies or perhaps online retail businesses like Amazon and Alibaba, where efficient logistics systems and value chains are so imperative in competing for market share.
Startups like CityQ can explore the possibility of incorporating cargo e-bikes into the vehicle offerings of major ride sharing players like Hellobike, Lyft or Uber as part of their on demand shared mobility service now that most of the big players are beginning to include multi-mode mobility on their platforms to provide consumers the ultimate end-to-end transportation convenience for a wide selection of use cases. For example, Uber invested in scooter sharing company Lime in 2018 while Lyft acquired bike sharing company Motivate.
Subscription-based business models hold the key to successful car e-bike sharing adoption: Shared mobility models can be pure-play platforms in which providers may own a fleet of vehicles and also supply drivers, for example in the courier and delivery services scenario. Car e-bike OEMs if they so wish, can provide a stand-alone cargo e-bike digital platform to make such vehicles available for use through an on-demand rental or subscription model for members to use for various purposes, including running errands to commuting short distances from point A to B for any reason. Certainly, car e-bikes may be made available through direct sales into the market as private vehicles as well.
Car e-bikes disrupting the micromobility and car sharing market: However, there exists a space within the shared mobility segment for a new car e-bike business model for start-ups like CityQ that may well prove to be a game changer as they have a great potential to break down barriers between car sharing and micro mobility markets.
Micromobility providers like Tier, Voi and Lime as well as car sharing players like Zipcar and Sharenow or Car2go would equally have valid reasons for wanting to look into offering car e-bikes as part of their offer book. Tier is well known for their e-scooter rental platform in Europe but they also have a vision towards seamless and sustainable mobility, and have introduced e-mopeds into their offerings. Companies like Tier, with their environmental aspirations, present opportunities for car e-bike makers to expand into shared micromobility rapidly if they succeed in becoming service offerings within these platforms. Car e-bikes offer a viable option for short distance point to point and last mile transport connectivity, plus they can eliminate a number of safety issues concerning e-scooters, bikes and e-bikes alike providing a more stable revenue stream also during winter season.
On the other hand, car sharing companies providing rentals (short term, long term) and subscription providers are becoming more common in urban environments. They typically involve users to be charged from a pay as you go model to paying a membership fee, then finding and renting vehicles through a smartphone app, which may involve paying additional usage fees. Daimler-BMW venture Car2go started out offering two-passenger Smart cars as a solution for short distance travel and easy parking but the vehicle itself fell short of being satisfactorily comfortable to drive, and was not energy efficient nor popular for running quick errands. Car2go / Sharenow subsequently offloaded their fleet of Smart cars in favour of bigger cars, but failed in a number of cities, citing high operation costs and infrastructure issues along with competition from micromobility as reasons. Had car e-bikes been available and offered as part of Car2go’s fleet at the time, outcomes may have been different. Compared to cars, a car e-bike would have thrived in a congested urban environment. It can be parked and driven anywhere, not just in designated areas and is agile to handle.
For car sharing companies, this implies that they can enter the micromobility market and start to compete against the Tiers, Vois, Lime/Uber of this world. On the other hand, micromobility providers can gain market share from car sharing providers with a vehicle platform that is cheaper to purchase and maintain than a car or even an e-bike, and which can also be attended to and serviced by their field teams without significant re-training requirements.
Lower OPEX wins in the long run: Maintaining and servicing fleets across cities and towns make up a large chunk of costs with most micro mobility and car sharing providers. Recent generation car e-bike makers are well aware of this. CityQ’s car e-bikes use an electric drive system that replaces mechanical gears and traditional e-bike assisted pedalling mechanisms using chains and belts completely. Instead, the pedals drive a dynamo attached to batteries and electric motors. Similar as to internal combustion engine cars having a far greater number of moving parts to an electric vehicle, the same comparison sticks if you compare a regular (e)bike to an advanced car e-bike. As such, these have significantly less mechanical issues compared to conventional cargo bikes and therefore require little maintenance which reflects positively on the cost side. This means companies like CityQ can bring in new innovative solutions to car sharing and micromobility players alike to provide a long term competitive advantage.
A smart phone on wheels: Regardless of the use case for the car e bike – making any vehicle digital and connected will enable an increase of its value over time as new features are added through software upgrades and will become a critical customer requirement. CityQ says their vehicle promises a ’Tesla on wheels’ experience, adding that it may even feel like using a smartphone on wheels. In practise these upgrades such as for drive modes are done online (or “over the air = OTA”), meaning that your car e-bike today could be a better version than it was yesterday. In contrast traditional bikes and cars which are focusing only on hardware developments to bring in innovation will inevitably depreciate much faster over time.
Looking further ahead into the car e-bike future: There is undoubtedly widespread belief that autonomous cars will be the rave of the future. But is a regular car the best platform to launch autonomy from? Provided the car e bike OEM has a truly digital approach with the vehicle, these seem well positioned to be at the autonomous vehicle (AV) front line to prove basic business concepts around AV players in the market. CityQ’s car e-bikes can only reach e-bike speeds, meaning that the platform is ideal for deploying AV functionality well before cars can.
Forward looking shared mobility providers are interested in rolling out AVs because it is operationally more cost-effective, enabling easier and more efficient collection and distribution of fleet vehicles, to shift them to demand centres automatically. AVs can also improve road safety. All these factors are important for car sharing and micromobility providers as most struggle with unprofitable operations due to costly manual labour requirements to service and maintain their current fleets. Having AV functionality across their fleets early would tremendously help improve the bottom line by reducing the cost per trip and increasing revenue simultaneously: Imagine how the problem of “unmet demand” can be addressed by a car e-bike moving towards the driver who is requesting a ride. Imagine the cost profile if your fleet of car e-bikes can drive themselves to a loading bay or centralised maintenance station on its own.
Car e bikes – an opportunity: Automotive OEMs and mobility specialists know about this potential development and are watching the market on 4-wheeled car e-bikes closely. Car e-bike developers are toying with different concepts, trying to figure out which will prove to be successful. Several players, particularly in Germany, are working on slightly different concepts, focusing on different segments in the market – from pure personal transport without cargo options, to pure cargo versions specialised in heavy last mile deliveries only.
We at NovAzure, are betting on CityQ for the reason that the vehicle can be fitted for personal use as well as light cargo missions and is driven by a strong digital concept. A ‘Jack-of-all-Trades’ is great to test across multiple business models in comparison to a pure cargo version of a 3-4 wheeler which cannot be tested for personal transport or vice versa.
Covid accelerates a trend: The market for 2-wheeler e-bikes has already seen tremendous growth of up to 40% so far before Covid-19 set in. Micromobility, electrification and the transformation of retail are all trends that are accelerated by Covid. Delivery periods extended to over 3 months for 2-wheeler e-bikes in a lot of cases and we see strong demand for cargo e-bikes in coming years to push the car away for short distance trips to ensure same day deliveries or dropping your kids at school. People are turning away from public transportation to limit exposure to Covid risks, and will be eager to embrace the sharing economy and new mobility concepts. Indeed, McKinsey also has an optimistic post-pandemic prognosis for the micromobility sector where they consider this mode to be less risky than other shared mobility options because of fewer contact points and ease of physical distancing. With higher hygiene awareness, people are likely to prefer micromobility over public transportation for the medium and longer term. As governments continue to promote green and active travel, micromobility will play an increasingly significant role in providing a sustainable and healthy mobility alternative.
Time to invest now: All these developments augur well for investors, business angels and venture capitalists who are looking at a number of early stage start-ups in this field. As this outlook suggests there are substantial returns to be reaped from a high growth market as the mobility landscape transforms around autonomy, connectivity, electrification and of course the sharing economy (ACES). What better vehicle is there to bring these trends to the market quickly than a car e-bike?